The Band | The Canadian Encyclopedia


The Band

The Band. Rock group, internationally popular in the late 1960s and the 1970s. First known as The Hawks, it evolved from a US group taken to Ontario in 1958 by Ronnie Hawkins.

The Band

The Band. Rock group, internationally popular in the late 1960s and the 1970s. First known as The Hawks, it evolved from a US group taken to Ontario in 1958 by Ronnie Hawkins. The original members, except drummer Levon Helm (b Mark Lavon Helm Marvell, Ark, 26 May 1940), were replaced gradually by Ontario-born musicians - the guitarist Robbie Robertson(b Toronto, 4 July 1943), the bass guitarist Rick Danko (b Simcoe, near Hamilton, 29 Dec 1942, d Woodstock, New York, 10 Dec 1999), the organist Garth Hudson (b London, 2 Aug 1937), and the pianist Richard Manuel (b Stratford 3 Apr 1943, d Winter Park, Fla, 4 Mar 1986). As The Hawks they worked with Hawkins 1958-63 in Toronto and on tour; their expressive blues-rock style influencrd several other Canadian bands, including Luke and the Apostles, Mandala, and Sparrow (Steppenwolf).

Leaving Hawkins, the group continued to perform in southern Ontario and, as Levon and the Hawks or the Canadian Squires, recorded a few singles for Ware and Atco, including Robertson's song 'The Stones That I Throw (Will Free All Men),' a minor hit in Canada. Moving in 1965 to the US they became Bob Dylan's back-up group, The Crackers, during his transition from folk music to rock - on tour 1965-6 (without Helm) in the US, Europe, Australia, and Asia (including controversial appearances at the Newport Folk Festival, Newport, RI, and the Royal Albert Hall, London), and in seclusion 1966-8 at Woodstock, NY, the latter an important period in the development of their own music. Referred to as "The Band" by their record company, they continued to tour with Dylan until 1974. They released their first album, Music From Big Pink, in 1968 and made their 'debut' as The Band in 1969 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.

The Band's popularity grew through subsequent LPs, although a series of singles also met with some success: 'The Weight' (1968), 'Up on Cripple Creek' (1969), 'Rag Mama Rag' (1970), 'The Shape I'm In' and 'Life Is a Carnival' (1971), 'Don't Do It' (1972), and 'Ain't Got No Home' (1973). Other songs associated with The Band include 'We Can Talk About It Now,' 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' (of which a version by Joan Baez was a hit single in 1971), 'Stage Fright,' and 'Chest Fever'. In 1974, The Band and Bob Dylan released the live album, Before the Flood, which was culled from their 40-show tour.

Based in Woodstock until 1974 and thereafter in Los Angeles, The Band performed throughout North America and in Europe and appeared at some of the largest rock festivals of the day, including Woodstock, NY (1969), the Isle of Wight (1970), and Watkins Glen, NY (1973). In Canada they performed at the Toronto Pop Festival (Varsity Stadium 1969), on two cross-country tours in 1970, at the 1976 CNE, and in several concerts with Dylan. The Band gave its final concert ('The Last Waltz') 25 Nov 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom with Hawkins, Dylan, and many other rock stars, including Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. (A movie and a recording of the concert were released in 1978.)

Perhaps as a result of its association with Hawkins and Dylan, The Band had essentially a US identity - one in fact stronger than many US groups cultivated - to the extent that the group was the subject of a chapter in Mystery Train ('Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll') by the US critic Greil Marcus. (At the same time, some of The Band's songs, including 'We Can Talk about It Now' and 'Acadian Driftwood,' reflected the experience of the Canadian expatriate.) It drew on many US popular-music genres creating 'a unique, consistent style - high wailing voices, odd chugging rhythms... unusual instrumentation and unpredictable harmonies that had neither the prettiness nor the shrill sound most groups sought when they put their voices together' (Charlie Gillet The Sound of the City, New York 1972). All members sang - Danko, Helm, and Manuel were The Band's individual voices - and each played several instruments, giving The Band a saxophonist (Hudson), a fiddler (Danko), two drummers (Helm, Manuel), and various guitarists, all employed under Robertson's direction with a deliberate sense of understatement that was antithetical to the excesses in rock music of the day.

The Band released Islands in 1977, and following 'The Last Waltz,' Helm and Danko began in 1978 to tour with their own groups and various Band members continued to collaborate on each others' projects. The Band itself, without Robertson, was reunited for concerts in 1983 and more tours followed. Manuel committed suicide in 1986 during one of the tours, and Robertson joined the others for a memorial concert in New York. On the occasion of The Band's induction into the Juno Hall of Fame in 1989, Robertson, Danko and Hudson performed at the awards ceremony with Blue Rodeo. That same year The Band was also inducted into the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) Hall of Fame. In 1994 The Band was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Although the revived group did not record during the 1980s, it sustained a moderate degree of popularity. Its place in the stellar international cast of Roger Waters' production 21 Jul 1990 of The Wall in Berlin, before a TV audience estimated at one billion, was evidence of the continuing esteem in which The Band was held.

After Danko's death in 1999 the group disbanded and the remaining members pursued solo careers. The Festival Express (DVD), was released in 2003; it recorded the events and concerts of the 1970 train tour across Canada that featured The Band, the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin; during the national tour the documentary was filmed in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.

At the 2008 Grammy Awards, The Band was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement award from the US National Recording Academy.


Music from Big Pink. 1968. Capitol Records SKAO-2955

The Band. 1969. Capitol Records STAO-132

Stage Fright. 1970. Capitol Records SW-425

Cahoots. 1971. Capitol Records SMAS-651

Rock of Ages. 1971-2. 2-Capitol Records SAB-11045

Moondog Matinee. 1973. Capitol Records SW-11214

Planet Waves (with Bob Dylan). 1974. Asylum Records

Before the Flood (with Bob Dylan). 1974. Asylum Records

The Basement Tapes. 1975. Columbia Records

Northern Lights, Southern Cross. 1975. Capitol Records ST-11440

The Best of the Band. (Compilation) 1976. Capitol Records ST-11553

Islands. 1977. Capitol Records SW-11602

The Last Waltz. 1976 1978. 3-Warner 3WS-3146P

The Band: Anthology Volume I. 1978. (Compilation) Capitol Records

To Kingdom Come: The Definitive Collection. 1990. 2-Cap C2-92169 (CD)

Jericho. 1993. Rhino Records (Warner Music Group)

Across the Great Divide. (Compilation) 1994. Capitol Records

Live at Watkins Glen. (Compilation) 1995. Capitol Records

High on the Hog. 1996. Rhino Records

Jubilation. 1998. River North Records

The Best of the Band, Vol. II. (Compilation) 1999. Rhino Records

The Band's Greatest Hits. (Compilation) 2000. Capitol Records

The Last Waltz. 2002. Rhino Records

A Musical History. (Compilation) 2005. Capitol Records

The Band is heard with Bob Dylan on The Basement Tapes 1967, 2-Col C2-33682), Self-Portrait (1969, Col C2X-30050), Planet Waves (1973, Asylum 1003), Before the Flood (1974, Asylum 201), The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (1998).

See also Discography for Ronnie Hawkins.

Danko Rick Danko. 1977. Arista AB-4141

Helm Levon Helm and the RCO All Stars. (1977). ABC 9022-1017

- American Son. (1978). MCA 5120

- Levon Helm. 1981. Capitol Records ST-12201

Helm also appeard on The Legend of Jesse James., A&M SP-3718

Further Reading

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